Science & Buddhism
Notes for 2017

Zen and the Brain, Google talk (1 hour):  In this talk to a technical audience at Google, James H. Austin M.D., a leading neurologist, describes the brain structures and functions and relates them to meditation and the practice of Zen.  See also his books listed below.

Anil Seth: Your brain hallucinates your conscious reality
15 minute TED talk:  Right now, billions of neurons in your brain are working together to generate a conscious experience -- and not just any conscious experience, your experience of the world around you and of yourself within it. How does this happen? According to neuroscientist Anil Seth, we're all hallucinating all the time; when we agree about our hallucinations, we call it "reality."

In this 5 minute video, philosopher Daniel Dennett suggests that consciousnessis nothing more than “mundane tricks” in the brain, but those help endow us with incredible capacities and free will.

Recent TED Talks

“The psychology of your future self” (just 6  minutes) by Dan Gilbert, Jan 2018, focusses on the “end of history” delusion that “I have just become the person I will always be”, i.e., although most of us acknowledge the changes that characterized our past lives, we are now confident in our future selves.

Lisa Feldman Barrett, “You aren't at the mercy of your emotions — your brain creates them”, 18 minutes, Jan 2018.

Anjan Chatterjee: How your brain decides what is beautiful
15 minute TED Talk:  Anjan Chatterjee uses tools from evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience to study one of nature's most captivating concepts: beauty. Learn more about the science behind why certain configurations of line, color and form excite us in this fascinating, deep look inside your brain.

Online course, "Buddhism and Western Psychology", authored and taught by Robert Wright and his associates at Princeton.

MICrONS researchers are attempting to reconstruct all the cells in a cubic millimeter of a rat’s brain, plus a wiring diagram—a “connectome”—showing how every cell is connected to every other cell, and data showing exactly which situations make neurons fire and influence other neurons.  This MIT tech article reviews that aspect of the $100 million MICrONS research program (the latter link lists many other aspects and related articles).

Upaya Dharma Podcast Series: Zen Brain 2015: The Embedded Mind lists hundreds of related talks, available online as podcasts or downloads.

November 26 discussion considered the book: "The Righteous Mind", by Jonathan Haidt, and Haidt's research on the intimate interplay of morality, emotion, and other psychological factors. Haidt wrote that book to help people talk about religion and politics, by looking at studies that try to explain how and why we differ in our thinking. See also the Utube video:

Moral Foundations

Haidt's page on the his recent appearances on TV (videos) at:

TED talks by Jonathan Haidt

Religion, Evolution, and the Ecstasy of Self

How Common Threats can make Common Enemies


Buddha’s Brain:  “the practical neuroscience of Buddha’s Brain; happiness, love & wisdom”, by Rick Hanson Ph.D. and Richard Mendius, MD.  Hanson is a neuropsychologist and meditation teacher, and Mendius is a neurologist.  Both are co-founders of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom.

BEHAVE”, by Robert M Sapolsky, was named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal … “a quirky, opinionated and magisterial synthesis of psychology and neurobiology that integrates…  Robert M. Sapolsky is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, a research primatologist,  the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, and the author of several works of nonfiction, including A Primate's Memoir, The Trouble with Testosterone, and Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers.


Zen - Brain Horizons, by James Austin.  From 1955 to 1967, James Henry Austin  held successive academic appointments in Neurology at the University of Oregon Medical School. In 1967, he was appointed Head of the Division of Neurology at the University of Colorado Medical School, then Chair of the Department from 1974 to 1983, and Emeritus Professor in 1992. His earlier research was in clinical neurology, neuropathology, neurochemistry, and neuropharmacology. His first sabbatical was spent at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. During the second sabbatical at Kyoto University Medical School in 1974, he began Zen meditative training with Kobori-Roshi, an English-speaking Rinzai Zen master. As a Zen practitioner, he has since become keenly interested in the ways that neuroscience research can help clarify the meditative transformations of consciousness.  His interest in Zen Buddhism has led to four MIT Press books. Zen and the Brain (1998), currently in its 7th printing, was followed by Zen Brain Reflections (2006), Selfless Insight (2009), Meditating Selflessly (2011), and most recently Zen - Brain Horizons, toward a living zen, 2014.

"Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment", by Robert Wright, a Visiting Professor of Science and Religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York. See also the online course, "Buddhism and Western Psychology",

"MIND, A Journey to the Heart of Being Human", by Daniel Siegel, MD.  The book describes recent neurological research and related practices of psychology and teaching.

"THE BIG PICTURE, On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself", by Sean Carroll, PhD.  (The link is to a NYTimes review.)  The author has researched and written a number of books ranging from cosmology through quantum physics.

One view of the future is portrayed by the book "Homo Deus", by Yuval Noah Harari, a history professor and noted author.  Another One view of the future is at Transhumanism.  Or just google that term.

"The Righteous Mind", by Jonathan Haidt, describes his reasearch findings on the many cognitive biases affecting our views, political views, and decisions.

Magazines and Articles

Where Buddhism and Science Meet: Teachings, Commentary, and News

Links and capsule summaries for 18 articles on Science and Buddhism, by Lion's Roar Staff, August 18, 2017.

Scientific American Mind is a popular magazine devoted to this topic.

Scientific American September 2017 issue features the new science of sex and gender.  See particularly "Is There a 'Female' Brain?", pp. 38-43.