Brooks on Neural Buddhism

Tsbrooks190 Robert Boyle once described the natural world as “brute and stupid.”  This view gained prominence in institutions like the Royal Society, helping to disenchant the world, meaning the non-scientific question whether there are values in the world (out there) or not was usurped by science in favor of the latter.  This criticism of science’s ostensible overreach has been made by not simply philosophers.  Lawrence Krauss, for example, has recently embraced something like this view.  (This issue is separate from the question of the existence of god or gods.)  It seems  to be part of the zeitgeist, having now made it even to the hands of David Brooks who contorts it in his David Brooksian way, in the NYT:

This new wave of research [on the neural instantiation of transcendent experiences] will not seep into the public realm in the form of militant atheism. Instead it will lead to what you might call neural Buddhism.

If you survey the literature (and I’d recommend books by Newberg, Daniel J. Siegel, Michael S. Gazzaniga, Jonathan Haidt, Antonio Damasio and Marc D. Hauser if you want to get up to speed), you can see that certain beliefs will spread into the wider discussion.

First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.

In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.