Wednesday, September 26, 2012

That brains cause minds

I've always loved this hypothesis: brains cause minds. In some circles, brains are minds.

Well, if by minds, we mean thoughts, emotions, memories, and other objects of mind, I see no problem with this. Objects can and should live in the physical world.

But if we mean the awareness that perceives these things and everything else, then we get into trouble.

See, the existence of brains can be disputed. "How?!," you might wonder, having seen one in the flesh yourself. Well, do you know you're not in The Matrix right now? Or in a dream? Yes, it's farfetched, and Occam's Razor would suggest otherwise, if you needed to invoke it. But that would just give you the most likely answer. You still cannot know for sure. Brains may be the figments of some machine's imagination.

On the other hand, can you deny the existence of awareness itself? I know some people damn well try, but consider this: if you doubt the existence of awareness, how do you know you doubt it? Do you have a thought that says "I doubt it?" If so, how did you "have" that thought without experiencing that thought? Are these even different things? Have you ever had a thought that you didn't experience / witness / know / observe / become aware of? Aren't all thoughts and doubts themselves evidence of awareness then?

This isn't a trick. On the other hand, as I've recently learned, it's not always obvious. The Mahamudra tradition goes through a stretch of calming the mind (shamatha) before it is calm enough to even notice that it is cognizant. This aware cognizance is closer to you than your own face, and it's a bloody miracle. I recommend noticing it.

So if we contend that the brain gives rise to the mind, we're forced to admit that something whose existence is questionable is the cause of something whose existence is not questionable. And the smarter we are, the more likely we are to swallow this one, I think.

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