Buddhism shares with science the task of examining the mind empirically; it has pursued, for two millennia, direct investigation of the mind through penetrating introspection. Neuroscience, on the other hand, relies on third-person knowledge in the form of scientific observation. In this book, Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk trained as a molecular biologist, and Wolf Singer, a distinguished neuroscientist—close friends, continuing an ongoing dialogue—offer their perspectives on the mind, the self, consciousness, the unconscious, free will, epistemology, meditation, and neuroplasticity.
Ricard and Singer’s wide-ranging conversation stages an enlightening and engaging encounter between Buddhism’s wealth of experiential findings and neuroscience’s abundance of experimental results. They discuss, among many other things, the difference between rumination and meditation (rumination is the scourge of meditation, but psychotherapy depends on it); the distinction between pure awareness and its contents; the Buddhist idea (or lack of one) of the unconscious and neuroscience’s precise criteria for conscious and unconscious processes; and the commonalities between cognitive behavioral therapy and meditation. Their views diverge (Ricard asserts that the third-person approach will never encounter consciousness as a primary experience) and converge (Singer points out that the neuroscientific understanding of perception as reconstruction is very like the Buddhist all-discriminating wisdom) but both keep their vision trained on understanding fundamental aspects of human life.
“Matthieu Ricard’s rare combination of a background in science and a lifetime of practicing Tibetan Buddhism makes him an ideal partner for this thoughtful conversation about the mind, meditation, free will, values, and the nature of consciousness with neuroscientist Wolf Singer. A book for anyone interested in an open-minded exploration of these topics.”
—Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University; author of Animal Liberation and The Most Good You Can Do
“Wisdom, relevant to how we can best lead our lives, is the core of this very readable, accessible, and even entertaining book. To be savored, enjoyed, and enlightened, in a thoroughly enjoyable book.”
—Paul Ekman, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of California, San Francisco; author of Emotions Revealed and Telling Lies
About the Authors
Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk, trained as a molecular biologist before moving to Nepal to study Buddhism. He is the author (with his father, Jean-François Revel) of The Monk and the Philosopher, The Quantum and the Lotus (with Trinh Thuan), Happiness, The Art of Meditation, Altruism: The Power of Compassion, and A Plea for the Animals. He has published several books of photography, including Motionless Journey and Tibet: An Inner Journey, and is the French interpreter for the Dalai Lama.
Wolf Singer, a neuroscientist, is Emeritus Director of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Founding Director of the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, the Ernst Strüngmann Institute for Neuroscience in cooperation with Max Planck Society, and the Ernst Strüngmann Forum.