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Buddhism's Love Affair with Science

Take a 2,600-year-old spiritual tradition from Asia and drop it into the blender of postmodern American consumer culture. Add science and multiculturalism to taste, and mix at Internet speed. This is 21st-Century Buddhism -- a weekly blog for the Interdependence Project. In this space, I'll talk about the issues that Buddhists and other spiritual practitioners face in our time and our place. I'll also bring in occasional posts from other guest bloggers who are contemplating these issues. If you have something to say, write to me at dhblogfeedback (at) gmail (dot) com.



Episode 006:

Buddhism's Love Affair with Science


Buddhism and Western science are happy in bed together these days. From the Dalai Lama's high-profile Mind & Life Institute dialogues with Western scientists to the many neuroscience research projects studying the effects of Buddhist meditation techniques on the brain, Buddhism and science are in the throes of an extended love affair. But will it last? Will Buddhism and science break up when they realize that, despite their common interests, maybe they don't actually share the same fundamental values and goals in life? Are they perhaps less compatible than they originally thought?

Many Buddhist teachers in the West are fond of saying that Buddhism is not a religion, but a "science of the mind," a set of tools and methods for conducting research and making profound discoveries in the laboratory of your own mind and experience. This positioning appeals to Western rationalists who like to bring a scientific approach to spiritual practice, and it neatly does away with the mystique of "religion" that clings to Buddhism. "Religion" has become something of a dirty word. The "spiritual but not religious" crowd – and roughly one-in-five Americans wears that description – eagerly embrace Buddhism as a "science of the mind."

Often, though, the "spiritual but not religious" folks grow uncomfortable once they get deeper into Buddhist studies and find out – surprise! – that they're being asked to entertain ideas that many Western, rationalistic people find utterly repugnant: things like life after death, rebirth, hidden realms of existence, gods and spirit beings, telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, psychic healing, prayer, and much more. Some Buddhist traditions talk about such things more openly than others, but there is nowhere that you can entirely escape mention of them: they appear, in various ways, in many Buddhist scriptures and canonical texts. You can turn a blind eye to the metaphysical elephant in the room, but you can't really be unaware that it's there.

The general sense of discomfort with these things among Western, scientifically-minded Buddhists has lately reached such a crescendo that some (Stephen Batchelor, for example, who is leading the charge of "atheist Buddhists") are now calling for a complete reboot of the system: a return to what they perceive as more fundamental, no-frills aspects of the Buddhist teachings. For these folks, Buddhism as existential psychology and as therapeutic praxis is fine for the rational, scientific mind – but Buddhism as metaphysics or "religion" has got to go.

Not many figures in the scientific community acknowledge the possible limitations of the materialistic view of consciousness, including its apparent inability to explain many common aspects of human experience. "We seem to be realizing," the scholar of religion Huston Smith once wrote, "that materialism, secularism, reductionism, and consumerism are inadequate premises on which to lead our lives – that they drain the wonder and the mystery out of life and experience and are dead ends." James Le Fanu, in a recent article in Prospect magazine titled Science's Dead End, lamented that despite ever-increasing amounts of funding and ever-more voluminous research being produced, modern genetics and neuroscience – two hard sciences whose view of human consciousness and experience is by nature deeply materialistic – have actually told us precious little about the real life of human beings:

The implications are obvious enough. While it might be possible to know everything about the physical materiality of the brain down to the last atom, its “product,” the five cardinal mysteries of the non-material mind, are still unaccounted for: subjective awareness; free will; how memories are stored and retrieved; the “higher” faculties of reason and imagination; and that unique sense of personal identity that changes and matures over time but remains the same.


The further reason why the recent findings of genetics and neuroscience should have proved so perplexing is the assumption that the phenomena of life and the mind are ultimately explicable in the materialist terms of respectively the workings of the genes and the brain that give rise to them. This is a reasonable supposition, for the whole scientific enterprise for the past 150 years is itself predicated on there being nothing in principle that cannot ultimately be explained in materialist terms. But it remains an assumption, and the distinctive feature of both the form and “organisation” of life (as opposed to its materiality) and the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of the mind is that they are unequivocally non-material in that they cannot be quantified, weighed or measured. And thus, strictly speaking, they fall outside the domain of the methods of science to investigate and explain.

This then is the paradox of the best and worst of times. Science, the dominant way of knowing of our age, now finds itself caught between the rock of the supreme intellectual achievement of delineating the history of the universe and the (very) hard place of the apparent inscrutability to its investigations of the phenomena of life and the mind.

In his 2009 book The End of Materialism, Dr. Charles Tart went further. Tart alleged that much of what passes for genuine inquiry in mainstream Western science is actually "scientism," a closed belief system founded on the unproven assumption that mind and life are entirely reducible to material phenomena. In order to maintain this belief system, Tart argued, scientism must willfully close its eyes and ignore a great deal of empirical data demonstrating the existence of non-material aspects of mind and experiences that cannot be explained in conventional scientific terms.

Tart, who for five decades has been conducting serious scientific research into a variety of 'paranormal' phenomena, is quite familiar with the closed-minded, dismissive view towards such research held by true believers of the prevailing scientistic paradigm. Tart alleges that such dogmatic scientists consistently ignore actual data that challenge their assumptions, breaking one of the cardinal rules of scientific inquiry: the data always come first. No assumption or point of view is to be held sacred if the data contradict it. The common reaction among materialists to the parapsychological research of someone like Tart is to assume that, if he is not a complete wacko to begin with, there must be something wrong with his experimental set-up or his analysis of the data, because we "know" that the things his research has demonstrated couldn't possibly be true. But a kneejerk reaction by any other name is still a kneejerk reaction, and it warrants serious investigation.

So where does this leave Buddhism and science? Clearly, a great deal of mutual benefit has come from their recent co-mingling. Science has advanced its understanding of how meditation affects the brain and nervous system, and meditation has thereby been legitimized as something even rational people can practice. It is no longer seen (entirely) as a delusional religious vocation for people who are probably borderline schizophrenics – which is, in itself, a huge step forward for scientific understanding. Buddhism, for its part, has gained insights into the physical correlates of mind states it has been exploring for two-and-a-half millennia. But as Buddhist meditation masters and scientists study one another in the laboratory and the lecture hall, are they being completely honest about what they want from each other? And how meaningful, really, is the common ground they are finding? For Buddhist practitioners, many of the recent, dramatic "discoveries" of neuroscience in regards to the effects of meditation and the brain provoke a general reaction of: "Well, that's nice. Meditation changes your brain? Tell us something we didn't know 2,500 years ago."

Maybe, at the end of the day, Western materialist science is from Mars, and Buddhism is from Venus. Despite the search for common ground, they are still looking at the mind – and the mind's possibilities – in radically different ways. It is doubtful that most Buddhists (with the possible exception of hardcore “atheist Buddhists”) will ever be able to accept the completely materialistic philosophy of mind espoused by mainstream Western science. And it remains equally doubtful that Western science – or 'scientism,' to use Tart's name for it – is really all that keen about having its sacred cow of materialism fundamentally questioned. It's not hard to imagine that as Buddhism and science grow more intimate, the tension between these different points of view will become more obvious.

Historian Arnold Toynbee wrote that Buddhism's encounter with the West "may well prove to be the most important event of the 20th century." Here we are now in the 21st century, and that defining event is still unfolding. Among its most important dimensions is this newfound love affair between Buddhism and the Western scientific enterprise. It's still too early for these lovers to move in together. They are in the dating stage, when you're just learning your lover's ways and everything she does is fascinating. But there are already signs of trouble ahead. If one partner expects the other to change and accommodate his views, but is unwilling to have his own assumptions challenged in return, that could signal the start of an abusive relationship.  


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Belated and irritated, and thanks

Thanks, Dennis, for again opening up Pandora's box.

This is a topic that irritates me a lot, especially when Buddhists, who seem more invested than scientists or philosophers in this behavior, make comparisons between dharma and science to make Buddhism appear closer to us when in reality, if our practice working, it’s completely alienating—you lose yourself and the world as you know it. It’s the opportunism that bothers me, the way Buddhists pick and choose which sciences and which examples from these sciences they avail themselves of in order to legitimate their positions—and of course to make them comprehensible to contemporary Westerners. But, as you make clear in your final three paragraphs, honesty in the relationship leaves much to be desired. Buddhists aren’t really interested in the project of science, which is open-ended. They are interested in validation from a culturally dominant way of viewing the world that, again as you point out, is too enamored of its own materialism to allow itself to explore what Buddhism has to offer in terms of spirituality—whatever that is and however that differs from religiosity, if indeed it does in any meaningful sense.

It’s kind of ironic, to me at least, that what Buddhism and science share most is what separates them most. They both place a high value on learning through experience, but their methods and aims differ too much to make them ultimately compatible. Don’t accept anything the Buddha says that your own investigation and experience don’t prove true. That’s Buddhism. Don’t accept accounts of the natural world (i.e., material world) that empirical observation (science’s version of experience) doesn’t prove to be the case (or that cannot be falsified). That’s science. But their aims are different. Buddhism claims access to one ultimate truth (and its relative truth is a necessary assumption for its path and method, but it’s a bit messy when viewed as a philosophical position, as Andrew Skilton points out in his history of Buddhism). Buddhism aims at Truth and shapes its philosophy and method to get that outcome; science, today more than ever, is open to discovery and changing its paradigms. It’s actually built on progressive accretion of knowledge that is potentially never ending. In Buddhism there’s a goal and a stopping point of sorts, and that’s a good thing.
As for picking and choosing, most of Buddhism’s biases make sense to me. It makes sense to compare emptiness teachings to insights of theoretical physics. But theoretical physics is not interested in developing compassion practices from its insights. There are numerous Western philosophers who argue for something like emptiness, but they aren’t interested in drawing spiritual conclusions or guidelines for conduct of life from it. In short it’s about knowledge, not wisdom. Except for the mystics—and there are some contemporary philosophers who espouse mysticism, quite interestingly—philosophy gave up on wisdom long ago.

Secular Buddhism

We can look at this exchange in two ways, either as taking something away from Buddhism or adding something to secularism.

I'm part of a small but growing group of secularists who are trying to incorporate Buddhist practices without becoming "Buddhists."

If any of you are around Boston, I invite you to join us at the Humanist Contemplative Group that meets at the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy. Stephen Batchelor kicked off his recent book tour at the chaplaincy.

Here's an interview I did with Dan Siegel in which we discuss this secularization of Buddhist wisdom:


Besides being skeptical of rebirth, I am also skeptical of "enlightenment" and "no-self." I don't consider "no-self" to be unscientific, but I can't say I really understand it, and I'm not willing to accept anything on faith or authority, even something that is potentially plausible.

My main attraction to Buddhism comes from meditation, the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, which I think are all consistent with science and highly plausible, to the best of my understanding.

Rick Heller

Re: Secular Buddhism

This is right on: "We can look at this exchange in two ways: either taking something away from Buddhism or adding something to secularism."

Every argument criticizing secular Buddhism, especially those referenced in this article and in the comments -- e.g. http://www.stephenbatchelor.org/punnadhammo.htm -- appeals to the authority of teachers and texts. A critique that is primarily based in an argument from authority doesn't seem very robust.  

Bhikkhu Punnadhammo makes

Bhikkhu Punnadhammo makes important arguments using logic - that Batchelor makes all sorts of metaphysical assumptions whilst claiming to be "agnostic," to give one example.

It's also misleading to say the counterarguments "appeal to the authority of texts:" When the dispute is about what the teachers and the texts actually say, as it is in this case, of course one has to appeal to their authority.

Read Paul Feyerabend

I don't know... this seems a rather superficial treatment of the subject. I find a lack of a common ground between the parties- how many critics have studied physics to the equivalent level of a sophomore physics or engineering major? Most importantly I find a a lack of philosophical understanding of science by all sides.

For addressing the latter problem, read Karl Popper, read Thomas Kuhn and especially, read Paul Feyerabend (I'm working through his book Against Method).

I listened to Dr. Tart's interview on Buddhist Geeks, and came away unconvinced. The data seems mostly anecdotal, which wouldn't be much of a problem if there was a some kind theory or hypothesis of how it all works. From a Buddhist perspective, I lack any personal experience with these phenomena.

Yeah, it's a blog post ;-)

A blog post is, pretty much by definition, a superficial treatment of a topic as rich and complex as this, which could take years to unpack. If I were out to do it full justice, it would require something on the scale of a thesis or a dissertation. This is not the place, and I am not the writer, to attempt that.

Since you bring up physics....oddly, it seems that physicists are among the scientists who are most often willing to part with materialist doctrine and embark into metaphysics and philosophy of mind: witness, Fritjof Capra, B. Alan Wallace, etc.. I suspect this is more often the case for physicists than for geneticists or neuroscientists -- but that's just a pet theory of mine. (And Matthieu Ricard's training was in genetics, so he contradicts my theory.)

But since you encourage getting more than an amateurish understanding of science, I would encourage you to do the same with Charles Tart -- rather than dismissing him based on an interview where he wasn't really able to present much data at all. Check out his book, which gets into the statistics behind his research and includes abundant references to other papers and publications that examine "paranormal" phenomena of mind in great depth. I'm not a scientist, so I can only judge his work from a layman's perspective, but it seems pretty solid to me. But then, as you may have guessed, I'm inclined to allow for the possibility of such things to begin with. It's good if we can be aware of our natural inclinations and biases and how they shape our perception of the data.


Science is the to Peace. Causes & Effects. Atoms. Lavousier...... All Sciencs Laws. bring to peaceful behavior.

this guy shouldn't be missing from this discussion

Thanks for the fine article and excellent comments. My thought when reading through was that I couldn't believe B. Alan Wallace's name hasn't come up yet. He's written more, and more intelligently, about these issues than anyone else I've read. One could start with "The Taboo of Subjectivity" or any number of other provocative books or article (alanwallace.org is a good place to know about).

Wallace and Batchelor were monks together but have pursued very different paths since. Interestingly it's Wallace and not Batchelor who has actual scientific training - and who also calls Batchelor on the carpet for willfully remaking the Buddha, who unequivocally talked about karma and rebirth as facts, into a modern British athiest.

We're lucky to be living at a time when the dialogue between science and Buddhism is happening at such a high level. In my opinion those who take a hard-line materialist view and ignore the primacy of subjectivity AND those from the Buddhist world who insist that their religion is a "science" are just muddying the waters.

love hurts

Hi Dennis,

Thanks -- this is really interesting. I'm not sure I agree with your account of how things are between Buddhism and science, or your implication that it might be better for them to "break up" :) , but I think you make some good points here.

There are definitely tensions when science meets philosophy. I took a multidisciplinary graduate course on consciousness a couple of years ago that was co-taught by a philosophy of mind professor and an experimental cognitive psychologist. There was a lot of talk about seeking the "neural correlates of consciousness," which assumes that the causes of our conscious experiences can be found somewhere in the brain:


I definitely saw clashes in approach and methodology -- the experimental psychologists assumed materialism, whereas the philosophers were interested in that one sticky thing that even scientists have to admit science can't explain: subjective experience, or what something "feels like". In other words, even if neuroscientists did find exactly where consciousness was "happening" in the brain, a scientific account of neurons firing in a certain way doesn't seem to explain how it's possible for me to have an experience of feeling the wind on my face; how I can have a sense that the event is happening to me; and how the experience can feel good, or feel bad to me.

But even if philosophy of mind doesn't take materialism as a given, there is a lot of space on the spectrum between materialism and Descartes' proposition that there are two different kinds of "substance": physical substance and mental substance. Few Western philosophers believe in a mental "substance," per se, anymore. I'm sure this has more than a little to do with Western culture and scientific advances, and the prevalence of the idea that the physical world is the only reality. But I find that I fall pretty close to materialism on the spectrum. I keep coming back to the principle of Occam's razor: The simplest explanation is usually the best. And science offers a pretty good, coherent explanation of the external world.

Sure -- science isn't the whole story. But it's a good story. And Occam's razor isn't just a scientific principle -- it can be applied to philosophy and metaphysics, too. I find myself wondering about some of the different aspects of Buddhism you mention above: "life after death, rebirth, hidden realms of existence, gods and spirit beings, telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, psychic healing, prayer". Does it have to be all or nothing with Buddhism? Is it possible for a doctrine to change and evolve as society progresses? 

So, should science and Buddhism break up? I hope they don't! After all, science seems pretty great (even if he is a know-it-all), and Buddhism has a lot to offer the general public. I think the key is in understanding and acknowledging the limits of science -- which I guess is what you're saying, too. But I can't advocate for a complete cultural separation of science and Buddhism. If anything, I think these and other worldviews are all already too isolated, making it difficult for people who aren't already entrenched in a particular tradition/worldview to explore and learn about others. What I like about the current love affair is that it makes Buddhism more accessible and available to people who are looking for answers.

Maybe they should keep it platonic, but still get together to have game night.


Excellent points, Steph. You frame the question as "Should they break up?" but I like to think that in my article I wasn't really asking that. I was trying, rather, to take the role of a couples counselor (albeit an opinionated one who probably takes sides in the relationship) who can look honestly at the dynamics of the relationship and point out potential problems, but doesn't place the value judgment of a "should" on it.

You hit the nail on the head: "science offers a pretty good, coherent explanation of the *external* world." That is the quandary that Le Fanu pointed to in his article, as well: science has delineated the history of the universe and can know external reality down to a single atom (and beyond) but still has trouble explaining some of the most basic aspects of our inner experience. But those aspects of inner experience are where Buddhism has always focused. This is the great potential of this love affair: as Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche says, "May the sciences that explore outside be joined with the inner science of the mind / To excellently put an end to mistaken views and confusion." To give credit where credit is due, that is, I think, the implicit goal shared by many of those exploring the intersection between Buddhism and science.

And yes, Buddhist doctrine can evolve with the times -- but I'm not sure that's what's happening right now with people like Stephen Batchelor. In his approach, I think there are essential parts of the baby that are being thrown out with the metaphysical bathwater. See B. Alan Wallace's article on this here: http://www.mandalamagazine.org/archives/mandala-issues-for-2010/october/...

(See also the great article on this by a Theravadan monk that someone else posted a link to in the comments below)

two questions

Thanks for responding. I could have been more precise in my framing -- I'm trying to engage with your article in two ways: (1) Am I on board with your account? and (2) How should we move forward? One is a question of accuracy, and the other a question of prescription. I'll focus a bit more on the first question in this comment, because your response helped me flesh out one of my issues... and because my training is in philosophy, so endless questioning and nitpicking is one of my strengths (or weaknesses, depending on how you look at it).

In your original post, you mention "non-material aspects of mind," and I think we're on the same page about that -- there seems to be an aspect of experience that science and the physical world can't account for. But in your response to my comment you mention "inner experience," and this term seems too narrow to encompass some of the things you identify as "repugnant" to Western rationalists: "life after death, rebirth, hidden realms of existence, gods and spirit beings, telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, psychic healing". Many of these ideas make claims about the mind's interactions with the external world, and in that sense, they fall at least partially under the purview of science. Psychic healing and telekinesis suggest that the mind can cause physical changes in the body and in the world. Rebirth has to do with consciousnesses inhabiting different physical bodies over time, and moving from one physical body to another. Is reincarnation strictly an account of inner experience? 

Inner and Outer Experience

Those are great questions. You're right to make the distinction that certain items on the list of (for lack of a better term) metaphysical phenomena stray beyond mere "inner experience" and into some kind of presumed interplay between mind and matter. I suppose I was using the term "inner experience" in a rather loose way.

You might want to check out Tart's book, The End of Materialism, mentioned in my article. He has spent five decades researching (I mean really researching, in the laboratory) exactly those kinds of phenomena. As a scientist, he would no doubt agree with you that those things do fall at least partially under the purview of science -- but as he points out, most mainstream scientists, wrapped up as they are in the doctrine of materialism, are quick to dismiss such things as superstition and pseudoscience, without actually bothering to look at the data. Tart's whole mission as a scientist is to find and explore the places where science and spirituality overlap -- but to even go into those areas and explore them, one has to be willing to set aside the prevailing materialist ideology. Few are willing to go there.

Your last point seems to equate the concepts of rebirth and reincarnation, but it's worth noting that in Buddhist philosophy these are seen as quite different propositions. Most Buddhists reject the notion of reincarnation, which pertains to a self-contained consciousness that migrates from one body to another, rather like a soul (although the Tibetan Buddhist descriptions of the bardo states do seem to come awfully close to something like this). What is more commonly accepted is the notion of rebirth, which is a much more subtle and difficult-to-grasp concept. As I understand the general Buddhist view of rebirth (and I'm putting it into my own words, and probably making a mess of it, but here goes): since there is no permanent, independent, truly existing "self" to begin with, it cannot "migrate" to another body. And yet there is (they say) this karmically conditioned potentiality for re-becoming, and some kind of thread or continuity of awareness -- a "mind-stream," you might say -- that runs through the series and carries in it the potential for recalling those previous lives, and so on. But there's no homunculus that leaps from one body to another. So that's quite different from the idea of reincarnation.

Re: inner and outer experience

I see -- that's helpful. This explanation of rebirth does seem complex. It reminds me of the way people talk about the holy spirit -- subtle and difficult to grasp. I remember being a kid in church and wondering why people had such trouble explaining what it was, and why it seemed so mysterious.

Regarding "the end of materialism"... It's interesting -- in your article, you mention "the possible limitations of the materialistic view of consciousness," and I'm with you there: it seems like there are some things that science and materialism don't address or explain. But I wonder if this means we have to reject materialism in order to make sense of our minds. It's a subtle distinction that persists in philosophy: if something can't be explained in materialistic terms, does that mean that materialism is false? Or could we find theories, concepts, and sets of concepts that address experience without necessarily being in conflict with materialism? And, conversely: if materialism is true, are our lives necessarily meaningless?

Yes but no

I wouldn't say that anyone is proposing to reject materialism, in the sense that everyone (even the most mystical Buddhist) acknowledges the existence and the functioning of material properties and laws that generally (in the absence of other, countervailing forces) govern the functioning of material elements. The aspect that is in dispute is taking that to mean that there is nothing else -- nothing that cannot be explained purely in material terms. In other words, materialism is fine as an explanation of material reality, but the belief that that's all there is is a metaphysical assumption. It sounds like you also acknowledge that materialism is inadequate, solely on its own, to explain all aspects of mind and experience.

Your last question -- "if materialism is true, are our lives necessarily meaningless?" -- is a great one that warrants a lot of contemplation, and it leads directly into a lot of other questions. What is meaning? Where does it come from? What is a good life? What is the basis of ethics and how is that connected to meaning? How should one live? Where do the answers to these questions come from?

Sort of a side note but not really:  B. Alan Wallace points out in his article (URL in comments above) that despite all the criticism about religion's ethical blunders and wars, it was at the bloody hands of secular materialists such as Hitler, Mao Tse-tung, and Stalin that more people have actually died. Secular humanists are always going on about how you don't need spirituality to have ethics, but looking back at the past 100 years, the secular track record on ethics is arguably much worse than the spiritual one. That doesn't mean secular humanists are wrong about the ethical question -- maybe you can have ethics without spirituality. Maybe the case for secular humanism is like what G.K. Chesterton said about Christianity: "Christianity isn't a failure -- it just hasn't been tried yet." But if this dispute were coming before me as a judge in a court of law, just looking at the evidence and the crime scene, I would probably have to rule in favor of religion.

Again, You Nail It!

I used to be a bit of a radical materialist. I really thought "atoms" or "neurons" could account for every aspect of life, the universe and everything. It was actually a comforting thesis at the time, because it made me feel that, not only was the universe intelligible, but that I had a bead on it's deepest functioning.


excellent article

More from this author - seriously, this addresses an issue I probably consider daily.


Dennis writes for us every Tuesday! Yes, more!

Oh, and one other thing. I'm

Oh, and one other thing. I'm reminded of Daniel Pinchbeck's Breaking Open the Head, from which I quote:

"Up until the mid-1960s, when the drugs were restricted and then outlawed, the psychedelic compounds were considered the most promising tools for exploring the human mind that psychology had ever found. Many of the best and most inquisitive minds in the field embraced this new direction enthusiastically. Before LSD was made illegal, more than a thousand papers were published covering some forty
thousand patients, recording amazing successes and profound challenges to the prevailing models of the human psyche: 'Every type of madness, every type of parapsychological phenomenon, every type of mystical, ecstatic illumination,Jungian archetypes, past lives, precognition, psychosis, satori-samadhi-atman, union with God,' writes Stevens in Storming Heaven, 'it was all there in the scientific record.' By 1968, the FDA had forbidden any more research in psychedelics. All around the world, an impregnable barrier was placed around
the subject, putting it outside the domain of legitimate science.

" . . .the medical and psychiatric professions were traumatized by the way the era of psychedelic research abruptly ended. Many of the leaders in psychiatric research began their careers studying psychedelics: 'The most powerful members of the profession discovered that science, data, and reason were incapable of
defending their research against the enactment of repressive laws fueled by opinion, emotion, and the media.' But as these researchers were scientists, not LSD priests, they turned their careers toward more supportable areas of study."

It is understandable that psychoactive drugs were so terrifying to a society devoted to a materialistic view of the world. But the gene won't stay in the bottle forever, and when it comes out again I think it may mediate the divorce between science and scientism.

Nice article

Interesting article Dennis. Personally, I think it is important to distinguish between science and the materialist philosophy with which it often seems to go hand in hand. I don't think those two are inseparable, and indeed I think we may eventually see new directions emerge. As I recall, Buddhadharma recently ran a profile of a neuroscientist who became a Buddhist nun after experiences that her worldview couldn't accommodate. And then there was that Ted talk by the neuroscientist who had a stroke.

It calls to mind for me a salient point in Bhikkhu Punnadhammo's critique of Batchelor (which, to his credit, Batchelor posted on his own website, http://www.stephenbatchelor.org/punnadhammo.htm)

“Whereas he would have us believe that he is taking the position of ‘I don't
know’ he betrays a decided bias at every turn for materialism. . . . Let's be clear about this. Consciousness has not at all been explained ‘in terms of brain function’ by modern science or by anyone else. It is entirely a metaphysical assumption that it ever can be, an act of faith of the most credulous sort that Mr. Batchelor should be the first to denounce. There is not a shred of a proof of this claim anywhere, only a pious belief in some quarters that such a proof will shortly be forthcoming. Even odder is that when there is a conflict between two metaphysical assumptions, a Buddhist writer should be so ready to give the benefit of the doubt to the unbuddhist one.”

More Critiques and Rebuttals

There was also this larger examination of Btachelor's work in this paper (also, as may have already seen) on his website. http://www.stephenbatchelor.org/msthesiscontent.htm

Yes, I've read that MS thesis

Yes, I've read that MS thesis - I don't think it's very good. It's a clumsy apologetic that grossly mischaracterizes the arguments of Batchelor's critics.

Yes, I've read that MS thesis

Yes, I've read that MS thesis - I don't think it's very good. It's a clumsy apologetic that grossly mischaracterizes the arguments of Batchelor's critics.

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