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Buddhism has become a uniquely favored religion in our modern age. A burgeoning number of books extol the scientifically proven benefits of meditation and mindfulness for everything ranging from business to romance. There are conferences, courses, and celebrities promoting the notion that Buddhism is spirituality for the rational; compatible with cutting-edge science; indeed, “a science of the mind.” In this provocative book, Evan Thompson argues that this representation of Buddhism is false.
In lucid and entertaining prose, Thompson dives deep into both Western and Buddhist philosophy to explain how the goals of science and religion are fundamentally different. Efforts to seek their unification are wrongheaded and promote mistaken ideas of both. He suggests cosmopolitanism instead, a worldview with deep roots in both Eastern and Western traditions. Smart, sympathetic, and intellectually ambitious, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in Buddhism’s place in our world today.
This classic book, first published in 1991, was one of the first to propose the “embodied cognition” approach in cognitive science. It pioneered the connections between phenomenology and science and between Buddhist practices and science—claims that have since become highly influential. Through this cross-fertilization of disparate fields of study, The Embodied Mind introduced a new form of cognitive science called “enaction,” in which both the environment and first person experience are aspects of embodiment. However, enactive embodiment is not the grasping of an independent, outside world by a brain, a mind, or a self; rather it is the bringing forth of an interdependent world in and through embodied action. Although enacted cognition lacks an absolute foundation, the book shows how that does not lead to either experiential or philosophical nihilism. Above all, the book's arguments were powered by the conviction that the sciences of mind must encompass lived human experience and the possibilities for transformation inherent in human experience.
This revised edition includes substantive introductions by Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch that clarify central arguments of the work and discuss and evaluate subsequent research that has expanded on the themes of the book, including the renewed theoretical and practical interest in Buddhism and mindfulness. A preface by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the originator of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program, contextualizes the book and describes its influence on his life and work.
A renowned philosopher of the mind, also known for his groundbreaking work on Buddhism and cognitive science, Evan Thompson combines the latest neuroscience research on sleep, dreaming, and meditation with Indian and Western philosophy of mind, casting new light on the self and its relation to the brain.
Thompson shows how the self is a changing process, not a static thing. When we are awake we identify with our body, but if we let our mind wander or daydream, we project a mentally imagined self into the remembered past or anticipated future. As we fall asleep, the impression of being a bounded self distinct from the world dissolves, but the self reappears in the dream state. If we have a lucid dream, we no longer identify only with the self within the dream. Our sense of self now includes our dreaming self, the "I" as dreamer. Finally, as we meditate—either in the waking state or in a lucid dream—we can observe whatever images or thoughts arise and how we tend to identify with them as "me." We can also experience sheer awareness itself, distinct from the changing contents that make up our image of the self.
Contemplative traditions say that we can learn to let go of the self, so that when we die we can witness its dissolution with equanimity. Thompson weaves together neuroscience, philosophy, and personal narrative to depict these transformations, adding uncommon depth to life's profound questions. Contemplative experience comes to illuminate scientific findings, and scientific evidence enriches the vast knowledge acquired by contemplatives.