Buddhism, Pheno-menology, and Cognitive Science: Assessing the Dialogue

Here is a description of the graduate seminar I will be teaching at the UC Berkeley Center for Buddhist Studies during Spring 2014:

Buddhist Philosophy, Phenomenology, and Cognitive Science: Assessing the Dialogue.

This seminar will be devoted to recent work in cross-cultural philosophy that links Buddhist philosophy with cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and phenomenology. Our guiding question will be whether Buddhist philosophical psychology can be understood as a kind of phenomenology. The conviction that it can be so understood is often used as a way to argue for the relevance of Buddhist accounts of the mind, as well as Buddhist meditative practices, to cognitive science, especially to recent neuroscience attempts to explain consciousness. Yet this approach to the Buddhism-cognitive science dialogue has provoked criticism. Buddhist scholars have argued that Buddhist accounts of the mind are theoretical constructs, not phenomenological descriptions, and they have emphasized that these accounts are embedded in metaphysical and epistemological frameworks that are incompatible with “neurophysicalism,” the view that consciousness is a state of the brain. At the same time, philosophers and cognitive scientists have voiced scepticism about the validity of phenomenology for a scientific understanding of the mind. Examining these criticisms in light of our guiding question will require us to think about what exactly phenomenology is and what it could be in a modern cross-cultural context. At stake is nothing less than the fundamental issue of what it means for the human mind to examine itself and the place that Buddhist philosophy can have in this endeavor for us today. Our readings will include chapters from my forthcoming book, Waking, Dreaming, Being: New Light on the Self and Consciousness from Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, the manuscript of Jay Garfield’s forthcoming book, Why Buddhism Matters to Philosophy, as well as a wide variety of sources from Buddhist studies, Buddhist philosophy, cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and phenomenology.