Can Science Explain the Human Mind?


From NPR: A forthcoming series of studies in the journal Psychological Science explores people’s beliefs about which mental phenomena can and cannot be explained by science.

“Importantly, these findings don’t tell us about what science can and can’t explain. They tell us about people’s beliefs about what science can and can’t explain. But the implications are pretty intriguing. People don’t seem to regard the complexity of a natural phenomenon as a critical barrier to scientific progress. Instead, those phenomena that involve the unique characteristics of the reflective mind — such as introspection and conscious will — are the ones that are taken to present a real obstacle for science. And those that contribute to making us exceptional — more than a ‘mere’ animal among many — seem to place us further beyond what science can explain.”

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  1. Science has not been able to understand the mind (i.e., consciousness) because it clings to materialism just like clinging to a belief system. However, if we consider science to be an “intellectual activity involving the systematic study of the natural world,” then questioning materialism is also science – one has to think outside the box in order to do this.

    Regarding the mind, ancient Buddhist teachings have systematically and comprehensively analysed the mind – for example, check out the following academic article:
    Karunamuni, N., and Weerasekera, R. (2017). Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom, Current Psychology.

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    • A good answer. Science needs to allow for all perspectives and all data to be considered objectively, and for any theory or law to be revised based on conflicting data and observations.

      The biggest barrier to understanding the mind is the materialistic assumptions of many claiming to be “scientific.”

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  2. “The biggest barrier to understanding the mind is the materialistic assumptions of many claiming to be “scientific.”

    New Ager propaganda. Oft-repeated, rarely examined.

    The dominant theories in neuroscience all posit the mind as an emergent property, as like a rainbow, a chimera, an illusion. In other words, neuroscience considers the mind to be a non-material property arising from material properties.

    This does not sit well with the New Agers. They consider the mind to be a material property arising from non-material properties (the illusory world).

    New Agers believe rainbows are more real than the eyes that perceive them. They are over-zealous materialists. With nothing to measure, no science to guide them. Just wild assumptions, superstitions, gut feelings, peculiar hunches. Primitive texts.

    Science is not held back by refusing the incorrect beliefs of New Agers. Refusing to chase rainbows is not a handicap.

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  3. rasselas.redux: It is NOT ‘New Ager propaganda.’ When discussing these things we need to separate different epistemologies (i.e., ways of knowing). One epistemology is the conventional paradigm (which is the scientific method) according to which the mind is merely a non-material property arising from material properties – that is what they observe and think. But there is another different but very important epistemology. To understand this, consider the following statements:

    Everything in the world and the universe is experienced in the mind (i.e., consciousness). Think of it this way: It is the mind (consciousness) that analyzes the world and the universe, analyses various organs in our body, analyses how the brain works and analyses even the mind itself. The ‘mind’ constitutes constantly changing sense impressions (i.e., experiences via our senses such as seeing, hearing, etc.) as well as mental phenomena (feelings, perceptions, intentions, etc.). It is this ‘mental world’ (non-material) that Buddhist teachings have systematically analyzed. This is clearly described in the article I posted earlier – please note that it is an article published in a peer-reviewed academic journal – NOT ‘New Ager propaganda.’

    Stated differently, the scientific method (that interprets only in terms of the ‘material world’) is useful to study only the material world but not appropriate AT ALL when it comes to understanding the mind. Remember that brains don’t talk for themselves – it is the mind that analyses it. People who simply say that the ‘brain is the mind’ forgets that the inquirer is interlocked with the item under inquiry. One has to think outside the box to understand this.

    Please let me know if you understand what I am saying – if not, I will try to explain further. You can also read the following (open access) article to understand this better:
    Karunamuni, N. (2015). The Five-Aggregate Model of the Mind. SAGE Open, 5 (2).

    The article I mentioned earlier (article titled: “Theoretical Foundations to Guide Mindfulness Meditation: A Path to Wisdom”) is also very useful and it is publicly available from the following MindRxiv preprint website link:

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    • I don’t venerate a text because it has been published in a peer-reviewed journal. It doesn’t really make any difference to the soundness of what’s written. Most journals — especially in the social sciences — are arenas for mutual masturbation, if truth be told.

      I’m sure Gautama was a lovely man, even if he abandoned his wife, children, family and friiends, in order to allocate his time into gazing deep into his own navel. And it is wonderful that so many people can now limit their navel-gazing, there being a martyr from the 7th C. BC who did all the leg-work for them, gifting the world with a number of indecipherable riddles and paradoxes that give the impression something unknown is known, something impossible is possible, and of course, the number one met-need: that you are very special and important within a cosmic framework.

      We’ll never see eye to eye on this. But the wonderful thing is the scientists just get on with discovery, innovation, and advancing humanity, while the hippies focus on their navels, and things just seem to go along, all tickety-boo.

      Happy New Year and best of luck and health.

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      • If you refer to meditation as “navel-gazing” – that itself shows how clueless you are about mindfulness/meditation practices!!! By the way, I would have preferred you to have pointed out a particular component of that paper that you disagree with rather than generally stating that you have a negative view about peer-reviewed journals and social science journals. Perhaps you didn’t even bother to read the paper – ignoring other perspectives is not real science at all.

        Please remember that science has insurmountable limits in elucidating the mind because it clings to materialism just like clinging to religion! This is why I like Dr. Rupert Sheldrake’s TED talk titled “The Science Delusion” – he explains that there is a difference between “science as a method of inquiry based on reason, evidence, hypothesis generation and collective investigation” vs. “science as a belief system or a world view.” My sincere wish for you this new year is that you will discover the tremendous value of meditation and mindfulness practices soon!

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